They were alone.
“You finished with your snit?” he asked softly.
“It wasn’t a snit,” Gemma retorted.
“Whatever.” Cash curled his big hands over her shoulders. “So, happy as I am to see you again, it pisses me off that you think I’d be knockin’ boots with a woman the same age as my daughter.”
The warmth of his touch sent tingles down the center of her body. “Far as I know, the young bunnies hovering around an experienced cowboy like yourself could be exactly your type.”
“Wrong. But I don’t think you tracked me down just to chew my ass for who you suspect might’ve been rockin’ my horse trailer.” His hands fell away. “So why don’t you cut to the chase and tell me why you’re really here, eh?”
Gemma studied him. The regal bone structure in his face highlighted the intriguing crosshatch of facial lines, courtesy of the years he’d spent working outdoors. When he smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkled and added to his rugged good looks.
“I heard you quit rodeoin’ fulltime.”
“Yeah? Who’d you hear that from?”
“Colby McKay.” She paused. “Is that true?”
“Why? I figured you’d be chasing the gold buckle and silver spurs until you were a grizzled old man.”
Cash shook his head. “Between seein’ Mike Morgan’s career endin’ injury and Colby bein’ damn lucky to be alive after getting stomped by a bull, I decided to quit while I still had a choice. In the last two years, most days I rode I felt like a grizzled old man anyway.”
“So what’ve you been doin’ to earn a living?”
Color darkened his cheekbones and he raised his chin a notch. “Whatever I can.”
“Like I spent the winter fixin’ houses on the rez. Then I helped a buddy down by Hot Springs during calvin’ season. Lately I’ve been wranglin’ rodeo stock for the contractors. I ain’t got a place of my own to maintain so I’m flexible. I can go anywhere at the drop of a hat.”
Gemma overlooked his embarrassment. It was a point of pride for white-line cowboys to own a chunk of land, to have a place of their own to call home if the road to rodeo glory ever quit calling them. Now that she really thought about it, why hadn’t Cash ever talked about why he didn’t have a place of his own? Was that a conscious choice? “Does that mean you prefer to keep moving around rather than have a steady income?”
“No.” His eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“The reason I came here is to offer you a job. I had another foreman quit on me last week.”
“Tell me you ain’t doin’ everything by yourself.”
“Most of it. Carter McKay is helping me out this summer. But he’s just part-time.”
“Carter McKay? One of Colby’s brothers?” His eyebrows knit together. “I don’t know him.”
“He’s the youngest. Been away at school for a number of years. He’s a hard worker, but his heart ain’t really in it. I need someone I can count on.”
“And you think that someone is me?”
“That’s what I’m asking. You know how to handle livestock. You know that ranching is hard work. And I could use an expert opinion on some of the young, untried broncs I’m hopin’ to get into the circuit. Not that those smug bastards calling themselves promoters are giving me a chance.”
“Plus, I’ve discovered I need testosterone around. Things run smoother even if a man just stands there lookin’ pretty with his mouth shut while I do all the negotiating.”
He stared at her without speaking for the longest time.
“I ain’t pretty, and I ain’t interested in standin’ around with my mouth shut. That ain’t who I am.”
“I didn’t say that you were.”
Cash raised his eyebrows.
Two short horn blasts signaled the start of the wild horse race in the arena. “Anyway, I can’t afford to pay more than two hundred dollars per week. But you’d get room and board. Including any horses you might want to stable. I assume you don’t need a truck?”
“We’re talking seven days a week. No days off at least until late October and haying season ends.”
“I know. Ain’t the first time something like this has been offered to me.”
Damn. Was she already too late?
“’Course. I turned ’em down flat.”
“Wasn’t interested in their offers.”
“So does anything I’ve offered interest you?”
Cash kicked a clod of manure under the trailer. “Depends.”
“On whether the only thing you’re offerin’ me is a job.”
Her pulse jumped. “What else would there be?”
“Gemma, you know what else I want. What I’ve wanted since the first time I clapped eyes on you. And if bein’ in your bed—whether or not anyone else knows I’m there—ain’t part of the deal, then I’ll have to pass.”
No way to misinterpret that.
Lord. Was she prepared to let the past fade? She and Steve Jansen had been happily married for twenty-six years. She’d been widowed for the last three. In recent months she’d grown tired of being alone and in her heart she knew Steve wouldn’t want her to mourn him forever.
But why did Cash want her? When he could have any woman? Young, or old, or in between? Was it a simple case of lust? She didn’t kid herself she was an aging beauty queen. Neither was she a spring chicken.
What if the reality of sharing her body and her bed with Cash Big Crow didn’t hold up to her fantasies? Worse, what if she disappointed him?
There was only one way to find out.
Gemma locked her gaze to his. “Just as long as you know that bein’ in my bed doesn’t change the fact that I will be your boss outside of it.”
“Yeah? Just as long as you know I will be the boss in the bedroom, no matter if you do write my paycheck.” He angled his head until they were only a breath apart. “Tell me somethin’.”
Being this close to Cash sent her senses into chaos. “What?”
“What changed? Last summer when you and I fooled around a little, you stopped it cold.” His brown eyes searched hers expectantly. “Why?”
“I wasn’t ready to move on.”
“For everything that bein’ with me means?”
“Meaning what, Cash?”
“I ain’t some mild-mannered gentleman rancher. I’ve been called a savage. I have savage appetites. Think you can handle it?”
She nodded with more confidence than she felt.
“Then you know what to expect from me when that bedroom door closes?”
“Ah. Um. No. Maybe you’d better spell it out.”
“Obedience. Trust.” He skimmed a finger up her cheek. The casual touch held just enough of an erotic edge that she trembled. “I heard you talkin’ to Channing last summer. I know there’s a…wild streak inside you. I wanna be the man to tap into it. I wanna give you something he never did.”
Her whole body heated as she remembered the heady feeling of surrendering all control in the name of pleasure. “Okay.”
“Good.” Something primal glittered in his eyes. “It’s ’bout time. I’ve been waitin’ for this day for two damn years.” He hauled her against his body and settled his mouth over hers.
Gemma expected a hard, demanding kiss. But Cash merely pressed his lips to hers and held them there. One callused hand slid up her neck, his thumb tracked the pulse in the hollow of her throat, where her blood beat wildly. The other hand cupped her cheek. His firm lips indulged in little nips of her trembling mouth. From corner to corner, from top to bottom, a leisurely, teasing glide.
“Let me in,” he whispered, seductively brushing his mouth back and forth against hers. “Kiss me back, Gem.”
Her tongue darted out and traced the seam of his warm lips. Mmm. He tasted as tempting and hot as she’d remembered.
Cash groaned, backing her into the trailer as the gentle kiss turned ravenous.
She latched onto his belt loops and held on for dear life.